AT&T's quest for Trump insight is ham-fisted

Adjust Comment Print

These payments were first disclosed by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing Daniels.

In a tweet on Thursday, Avenatti mocked the reasons these companies have given for paying the firm of Trump's personal attorney.

Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical firm; Korea Aerospace Industries, a South Korean defense contractor; and AT&T, the massive U.S. telecom, all paid Cohen-linked Essential Consulting more than $150,000.

The Trump administration took up major industry issues that involve AT&T, including the company's proposed $85bn purchase of Time Warner Inc. and the repealing of net neutrality regulations. The department sued in November to stop that deal. While Avenatti claimed that the payments totaled $200,000, AT&T did not disclose the total sum.

AT&T confirmed the payments in a statement to CNN.

Payments by KAI and other companies including AT&T to Essential Consultants, a company that paid porn star Stormy Daniels US$130,000 in October 2016 just before the USA presidential election, were described on Tuesday by her lawyer Michael Avenatti. The payments line up with some claims in an unsourced document released Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels. Trump has denied the affair. Shortly after its creation, Essential Consultants was used to pay Daniels $130,000, Cohen has admitted.

The contract was approved in early 2017 under the former Novartis chief executive Joe Jimenez and was part of its efforts to learn more about how the new Trump administration might approach certain USA healthcare policy matters. The former New York City mayor said the payments were made in multiple installments.

The Swiss company said on Wednesday it had been approached in November previous year by the U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office who wanted to know about the payments, while probing potential meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

The New York investment firm Columbus Nova said it retained Cohen as a consultant "regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures". But Avenatti now suggests the reimbursement actually may have come from Russian energy baron Viktor Vekselberg. The current CEO is Andrew Intrater, an American citizen who, according to SEC filings, is Vekselberg's cousin. The meeting, which took place at the World Economic Forum in Davos, was billed as an opportunity for the president to pitch overseas firms on investing in the United States.

Cohen was also paid by Columbus Nova, the U.S. affiliate of a corporate empire belonging to Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch closely linked to Vladimir Putin. "Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else outside of Columbus Nova was involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement".

But since the story broke on Tuesday evening, Columbus Nova has been aggressively pushing back on the Vekselberg connection.

"As the contract unfortunately could only be terminated for cause, payments continued to be made until the contract expired by its own terms in February 2018", Novartis said. Korea Aerospace reportedly paid $150,000 in November.

Columbus Nova hired Cohen as US investigators were ramping up their inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election. "We can't be responsible for what Michael Cohen is doing". "Why was he engaged in these transactions?"

The scrutiny of the payments could add to the legal troubles for Cohen, whose home and office were raided in April as part of a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump's new personal lawyer, told HuffPost on Wednesday that the Cohen news has absolutely nothing to do with the president.

Lobbying and financial reports filed by Novartis show that, like other drug companies, it had significant business before the government.